Thursday, February 10, 2011

Managing A Wild Ride to the Emergency Room – A Checklist

My father is a pretty independent guy.  He loves to tell us that when he was young, he served as a ranch hand for a summer. I can just see him, riding horses and herding cattle.  I guess his professional career was similar to that cowboy summer.  As a high school principal, he spent a lot of his time herding kids.  Even today, he is still kind of a tough old cowboy.
He hates to go to the doctor, and I don’t remember him ever going when we were kids.  A few years ago, though, after suffering for about a week, he was in such excruciating pain that he could not hold out any longer and had to go to the emergency room at his local small town hospital.  None of his children were in town that night, so he drove himself to the hospital.

Of course, this being a Saturday night in rural South Dakota, they could not treat him at that small hospital and were forced to send him on a wild ride in an air ambulance to a larger hospital a couple of hours from his home.  Once he arrived at the hospital, they determined that they did not need to keep him overnight and dumped him out on the street without a car to find his own hotel room.  Thankfully, my sister was able to find him and help him get a hotel room where he stayed until demanding to be returned home the next morning.  Now, I really don’t have any advice for how to force stubborn cowboys to let their kids know when they need help, but I recently attended an excellent – and very practical- presentation by Dr. Thomas Price, Chief of Medicine, Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital, Assistant Program Director, Fellowship in Geriatric Medicine, Assistant Professor, Emory University School of Medicine, and Medical Director of the AG Rhodes Home at Wesley Woods, (he does wear a lot of hats) on what to do when your aging loved one may need to go to the hospital.

The presentation is packed with good advice, but I found Dr. Price’s instructions for preparing for a trip to the emergency room to be invaluable.  Now, maybe other people know instinctively what to do, but when one of my loved ones is sick enough to require a trip to the emergency room, I’m not sure I would be able to think clearly enough to gather what is necessary for the trip.  Here, then, is Dr. Price’s checklist for taking a loved one to the emergency room:

I’ve posted Dr. Price’s presentation in .pdf form on my website.  You can find it at

  • First Step
    • Go by ambulance or car?
      • If poorly responsive or in distress, call 911!
    • If by car, have someone drive you
      • Allows you to help mom
      • Prevents you from being distracted as a driver if mom vomits, gets worse
  • Preparing for the Trip
    • Mom’s Bag
      • Ziploc of all the medications she is currently taking in their bottles
      • Contact info for her primary care doctor and other specialists she sees
      • Insurance cards (Medicare, Medicaid)
      • A change of clothes (preferably a track suit or other easy to put on activewear)
      • Dentures, glasses, hearing aids!
  • Preparing for the Trip
    • Your Bag
      • Any medications you take (at least two days worth)
      • Copy of mom’s living will/advance directive/POA
      • A book (sudoku, crosswords, novel)
      • Cell phone and charger
      • One change of clothes
      • Hygiene supplies
      • Water, snacks, or sandwich
  • The Drive
    • Bring blanket, plastic bag (for emesis), towel
    • Be calm, say supportive things to mom
    • Sit with her in back seat

I’ve posted Dr. Price’s presentation in .pdf form on my website.  You can find it at

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